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Urban Compass Calgary

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If you love vinyl records, Calgary is where it's at

This Mother’s Day, I have been reflecting on a particular lesson my mom taught me: You can never spend too much money on music.

First, it was vinyl records, then CDs. When I was a kid she bought tons of CDs. These days she’s back into vinyl, joining countless others who are rediscovering (or discovering for the first time) the joys of physical albums.

In our smartphone era, music can seem intangible: stamp-sized cover art, nothing to hold in the hands, Songza playing in the background. It’s convenient, but less satisfying somehow.

With vinyl, you get cover art, interesting packaging, a nostalgic feel and other little surprises. (Check out local singer-songwriter Chad VanGaalen’s latest LP, Shrink Dust, for an example of random weirdness.)

Sure, you may get some pops and the odd skipping, but the sound is rich, full and satisfying. All told, the music has a larger presence.

This holds great appeal. In 2013, vinyl sales increased by 32 per cent from 2012. At the same time, digital music sales went down (though digital still dwarfs vinyl sales, of course).

Like my mother, I have done my part in this shift. I have taken what she taught me and applied it toward vinyl.

Unfortunately, Calgary is a dangerous city in which to do this.

In recent years, much has been said about Calgary’s emerging scenes in food, craft beer and the like. But this is also noteworthy: In Calgary, we have a wealth of vinyl records.

Hot Wax in Kensington, The Inner Sleeve in Marda Loop, Sloth Records and Melodiya Records on 17th Avenue SW — they are all danger zones for buyers of vinyl. Even my local drugstore, Lukes Drug Mart, sells records. So when you go in for Tylenol or toothpaste, you sometimes emerge poorer by $20 (or more, depending on one’s inner fortitude that day).

The real goldmine, of course, is Inglewood’s Recordland, with its ridiculously narrow aisles and tightly packed shelves.

I realized how good we have it in Calgary last summer, during a visit to Seattle.

I’d heard that Bop Street Records in that city is one of the best used record stores in the U.S.

Yet when I stepped into the store, flanked by two very high walls filled with records from floor to ceiling, I was underwhelmed. There were lots of records — over half a million, according to the website. But once you’ve been spelunking in Recordland, it’s hard to be fazed by anything else.

Recordland has perhaps between half a million and one million records — they’ve never counted, and with good reason. It would take forever. If you enjoy music, consider joining the vinyl madness. For a little over $100, you can get a decent turntable (tip: avoid Crosley units in favour of Sony or Audio-Technica).

But then you must watch your wallet, especially in this city.

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